BRIEFING: Six Months Since Delhi Riots, Delhi Police Continue To Enjoy Impunity Despite Evidence Of Human Rights Violations 

28 August 2020 8:00 am

An Amnesty International India field investigation has documented several human rights violations committed by the Delhi police during the 2020 February Delhi riots. These violations include Delhi police officers indulging in violence with the rioters; torturing in custody; using excessive force on protesters; dismantling protest sites used by peaceful protesters and being mute bystanders as rioters wreaked havoc.

Download the briefing here.

Six months ago, in February 2020, communal violence broke out in New Delhi, India’s national capital. The riots took place over a span of six days, from 23 to 29 February. According to government data, the riots claimed at least 53 lives and injured more than 500. During these six months, the Delhi police in their investigations into the riots have filed more than 750 First Information Reports (FIRs) and at least 200 charge sheets.

According to various media reports, until now, the Delhi police have arrested several students and named professors and human rights activists in their statements to the court. It alleges that the students, professors and human rights activists, who were instrumental in organising peaceful protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), are actually the chief conspirators of the riots. The Delhi police allege they engineered the violence to discredit the Union Government of India internationally. One such student is Safoora Zargar, a pregnant woman who was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and sent to jail during the COVID-19 pandemic for her alleged role in the riots. She has since been released on bail. But till now, not even a single political leader that made hate speeches which advocated violence in the build-up to the riots has been prosecuted.

But this investigative briefing by Amnesty International India is not regarding the ongoing investigations by the Delhi police. This is about the Delhi police. As the Delhi police investigate who is responsible for the riots, there have been no investigations till now into the human rights violations committed by the Delhi police during the riots.

On 11 March, just a few days after the riots, Union Home Minister Amit Shah gave a clean chit to the Delhi police in the Lok Sabha (Lower house of Parliament). “Controlling and putting a full stop to riots in just 36 hours in a dense area is a very difficult task. I must say that Delhi police did a commendable job,” he said.

However, the information gathered by Amnesty International India does not point towards a ‘commendable’ job. Instead, it reveals a pattern of human rights violations and rampant impunity.

Amnesty International India interviewed more than 50 riot survivors, eye witnesses, lawyers, human rights activists and retired police officers. It also analysed several videos on social media platforms like Twitter to analyse the role of the Delhi police during the riots. These videos showed Delhi police pelting stones with the rioters, torturing people, dismantling protest sites used by peaceful protesters and being mute bystanders as rioters wreaked havoc in Delhi.

To verify the evidence of human rights violations in the user-generated social media videos, Amnesty International India collaborated with Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab. The Lab uses cutting-edge open-source and digital investigation tools to corroborate and analyse serious human rights violations. It authenticated these videos by verifying the time, date and location of the videos. In addition, Amnesty International India visited the locations where the videos were shot and interviewed the eyewitnesses and survivors. Amnesty International India also reached out to the Delhi police but there was no response until the time of publishing this briefing.

“The Delhi police reports to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and it is shocking that there has been no attempt by the MHA to hold the Delhi police accountable till now. This, despite several of their violations being live-streamed on social media platforms. There have been several news and fact-finding reports published during these six months documenting the violations. This includes a report filed by the Delhi Minority Commission (DMC). But there has been no action taken against the police so far. In this investigative briefing, we try to add to the ongoing work done by students, civil society organisations, journalists, lawyers and the DMC to hold the Delhi police accountable. This ongoing state-sponsored impunity that the Delhi police enjoy sends across the message that the police can commit grave human rights violations and evade accountability. They are a law unto themselves,” said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.

The investigative briefing begins with the build-up to the riots in February 2020. It documents the hateful political speeches made by political leaders and a timeline of police brutality in university campuses in Delhi. This is followed by the documentation of Delhi police’s inadequate response in preventing the riots. The next section focuses on the Delhi police’s complicity and active participation in the violence. This includes the denial of medical services to victims, participation in the violence, excessive and arbitrary use of force on protesters and differential treatment of assemblies. The briefing then demonstrates a pattern of torture and ill-treatment meted out on riot survivors and detainees by the Delhi police after the violence followed by the harassment and intimidation of survivors and peaceful protesters.

Amnesty International India concludes the investigative briefing with a set of recommendations. The foremost being the launch of a prompt, immediate and independent investigation into the role of Delhi police in the communal violence in preventing, investigating and prosecuting the communal violence and hate crimes that took place six months ago in February 2020.

BUILD UP TO THE RIOTS

Since December 2019, Delhi along with the rest of the country has witnessed peaceful protests and sit-ins against the enactment of the CAA by the Indian Parliament. Amnesty International India has called for the repeal of CAA which is a bigoted law that discriminates on the basis of religion. The law is specifically exclusionary towards Muslims.

In the build-up to the Legislative Assembly elections in Delhi which were held on 8 February 2020, several political leaders made hateful speeches against the anti-CAA protesters demonising them as ‘anti-nationals’ and inciting violence against them in their election rallies. These speeches were followed by violence on university campuses against those protesting the CAA. Even after the Delhi elections, the hate speeches continued followed by widespread violence in the North-East district of Delhi.

To date, the Delhi police have not taken any action against the perpetrators leading to a climate of widespread impunity. Their heavy-handed crowd-control tactics on university campuses have been captured in various videos which were uploaded on social media platforms and verified by Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab.

A timeline of key hate speeches and state repression of peaceful protesters leading up to the riots in Delhi is as follows:

  • On 15 December 2019, four days after the enactment of the CAA, the Delhi police entered the campus of Jamia Milia Islamia University in New Delhi and brutally beat up and allegedly sexually harassed anti-CAA student protesters. The students and faculty of Jamia Milia Islamia University have filed multiple complaints against the police high-handedness but no FIR has been registered by the Delhi police on these complaints as yet. The Delhi police have objected to the registration of an FIR against its police officers. In August 2020, the police objected to a batch of Public Interest Litigation (PILs) filed in the Delhi High Court which called for the setting up of a special investigation team or a fact-finding committee into the incident.
  • On 5 January 2020, a masked mob lay siege to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi for more than two hours, injuring over two dozen students and teachers from the university. The mob was allegedly armed with rods and sledgehammers as they intimidated the students by destroying campus property, entering hostel rooms and chanting slogans such as “Kill the leftists”, “Kill the Anti-Nationals” and “Desh ke Gaddaron ko, goli maaron saalon ko” (The traitors must be shot dead). The students and faculty at JNU have filed at least 40 complaints against the mob with the Delhi police. But the Delhi police haven’t filed a single FIR into the incident as yet. On the contrary, they were prompt in filing an FIR against several students who were protesting against the CAA on the campus including Aishe Ghosh, President, Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union who was injured by the mob.
  • On 27 January, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, in an election rally asked the audience to “press the (election voting machine) button with such anger that the current is felt at Shaheen Bagh”. Since the enactment of the CAA. Shaheen Bagh had become the epicentre of the anti-CAA protests in the country. Besides being a completely peaceful protest in the capital city, it was largely led by Muslim women. He told the audience that their vote to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could keep the “country safe and prevent thousands of incidents like Shaheen Bagh”. The Delhi police comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • On 27 January, referring to the protesters at Shaheen Bagh, the Union Minister of State for Finance, Anurag Thakur encouraged the crowd to chant ‘Desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maaro saalo ko (shoot the traitors of the nation)’. This slogan has often been used against the people speaking out against the CAA. On 28 January, a Member of Parliament belonging to BJP, Parvesh Verma indulged in divisive fear-mongering and claimed that the protesters from Shaheen Bagh would enter citizens’ homes and “rape your sisters and daughters and kill them”. In another speech on the same day, he promised to “not leave even one of [the mosques] standing” after BJP’s election in Delhi.Section 125 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, which provides for the conduct of elections in India, makes it an offence to promote feelings of enmity or hatred on grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language between different classes.
  • On 30 January, the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and shortly after the speeches of Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma, a man fired a pistol at a group of anti-CAA protesters, injuring a student before walking away while waving the firearm and shouting “Yeh lo Aazaadi” (Here, take your freedom).  The video footage of the attack showed the police officers standing on the side-lines not taking any action against the man. The slogan – Hum kya chahte, azaadi (We want freedom) was widely used by anti-CAA protesters during the peaceful assemblies. It was popularly understood to demand freedom from hate and violence.
  • On 8 February, the Legislative Assembly elections were held in Delhi. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won the elections.
  • The peaceful protests against the CAA continued and by 15 February, several peaceful protesters occupied a portion of the road near the Jaffrabad Metro station in North-East district of Delhi for a peaceful sit-in against the CAA. The protest was joined by hundreds of women and students.
  • On February 17, in the case of Amit Sahni v. Commissioner of Police, Special Leave to Appeal (C) No. 2456/2020, the Supreme Court of India recognized the rights of those protesting peacefully in Shaheen Bagh against the CAA. But the Court expressed its concern over the blocking of public areas such as roads because of the protests. It appointed two interlocutors to convey its apprehension to the protesters and suggest them to move to an area where they could continue with the protests without causing inconvenience.
  • On 23 February, BJP leader Kapil Mishra issued a call on Twitter to rally against the women-led Jaffrabad protest urging people to “prevent another Shaheen Bagh”. In the evening, he led the rally to Maujpur Chowk which is a kilometre away from the Jaffrabad protest site. While addressing the rally, he gave the Delhi police a live-streamed three-day ultimatum to remove the protesters from Jaffrabad. With the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) (North-East), Ved Prakash Surya, standing next to him, Kapil Mishra said, “They want Delhi to burn which is why they are blocking roads and creating a riot-like situation. There has not been a single stone pelted from our side. DCP sir is standing with us here. I am telling him on your behalf that we will remain peaceful till [Donald] Trump is in India. After that, we will not listen even to you if the roads are not cleared. We request you to remove the [anti-CAA] protests in Jaffrabad and Chandbagh before Trump leaves, otherwise we will have to come out on the streets”. Since December 2019, Kapil Mishra has led multiple marches and rallies raising hateful slogans.
  • The communal violence erupted on the evening of 23 February, after a few hours of Kapil Mishra’s speech and continued until 29 February in various parts of Delhi. The areas that witnessed the riots were: Bhajanpura, Chand Bagh, Gokulpuri, Jaffrabad, Kardampuri, Karawal Nagar, Seelampur, Shivpuri and Shiv Vihar. All these areas fall in the North-East district of Delhi.
  • On 24 and 25 February, Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America visited India for a Namaste Trump event. He was in Delhi from the evening of 24 February to 25 February.

As the violence unfolded in Delhi, on 26 February, the Delhi High Court in the case of Harsh Mander v. Government of NCT Delhi & Ors. W.P.(Crl.) 565/2020, ordered the Delhi police to “take a conscious decision” on filing a First Information Report against Kapil Mishra, Parvesh Verma, Anurag Thakur and Abhay Verma, another MLA who made hate speeches, within a day. No FIR has been filed against the political leaders so far.

The lockdown measures enforced by the Government of India and various state governments to curb COVID-19 in the country grounded the peaceful protests at Shaheen Bagh and other sites to a halt.

On March 24, 2020, the day the national lockdown was announced, the Delhi police filed an FIR against nine women protesters in Shaheen Bagh who were peacefully protesting while maintaining physical distance for disobeying an order by the public servant; obstructing a public servant in discharge of his/her functions and; assaulting and using criminal force to deter a public servant. Despite a case pending before the Supreme Court of India for removal of mass gathering from Shaheen Bagh, the Delhi police dismantled the protest sites across the city, concealed the anti-CAA art installations and cleared the graffiti.

According to Article 9 of the ICCPR everyone has the right to liberty and security of person and no one can be deprived of such liberty except in accordance with the procedure established by law. It provides that anyone arrested has a right to be immediately informed about the reasons for the arrest and must be promptly produced before a judge. This applies even if formal charges have not been asserted against a person.

Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a state party prohibits any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. 

The Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence proposes a six-part threshold test to examine whether an expression constitutes a criminal offence under Article 20 of the ICCPR. 

The test includes the following elements: 1) context of the statement, 2) the speaker’s position or status in the society, 3) intent to advocate or incite hatred, 4) the content and form of the statement, 5) the reach of the statement and 6) the probability of a speech succeeding in inciting the actual action. 

The speeches made by various political leaders in Delhi, many of whom hold public offices, before the violence evidently pass the threshold test endorsed by the Rabat Plan of Action. To illustrate, the turbulent social and political context during the time the speeches were made, the public standing of the political leaders, the provocative nature of the statement calling for direct violence upon the protesters, the large size of the audience in the election rallies and the recurrent shootings and attacks on anti-CAA protesters along with the actual razing of mosques by rioters point towards the culpability of the political leaders. 

Various provisions of the Indian Penal Code also regulate hate speech. However, despite the Election Commission of India issuing a notice to Anurag Thakur for making comments that had the ‘potential of disturbing communal harmony’ and repeated calls by the public to hold the political leaders accountable, on 14 July the Delhi police submitted to the Delhi High Court that there was no evidence that indicates any role played by BJP Leader Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma in instigating or participating in the Delhi riots.

POLICE’S FAILURE TO PREVENT THE RIOTS

Amnesty International India interviewed several survivors who witnessed the violence break out right after Kapil Mishra’s ‘ultimatum’ speech. The inadequate response of the Delhi police to hate crimes committed during the violence manifested in various ways. The vast majority of individuals Amnesty International India spoke to said that the police did not respond to the multiple calls that were made to 100 – police’s emergency helpline number – leaving the survivors to fend for themselves over the period of six days of violence in Delhi.

Moinuddin, a riot survivor whose shop in Maujpur was burnt down by rioters witnessed Kapil Mishra’s speech at Maujpur Chowk on 23 February. Speaking to Amnesty International India, he said, “From my shop, Maujpur Chowk is about 100 metres. Over there, I saw Kapil Mishra come and give an inflammatory speech to pro-CAA protesters. After his speech, the public which was listening to him started gathering sticks and other weapons. I got scared and shut my shop. Within hours, I came to know that my shop was set on fire. I called the fire brigade but they did not even respond to my phone calls. I live in Brahampuri, where both Hindus and Muslims have shops.  We have lived peacefully till the riots. I do not understand what is happening now in Delhi”.

Communal violence erupted in Maujpur on the evening of 23 February. According to news reports, the initial few hours witnessed equal attacks by both Muslims and Hindus. But the balance soon shifted with rioters carrying lethal and less-lethal weapons into Muslim neighbourhoods as the police stood by without trying to control the riots. The riots soon spread to other localities.

According to a news report filed by NDTV, a news media channel on 29 February, Delhi police received more than 13,000 calls for help during the period of violence. Riot survivors and eyewitnesses told Amnesty International India that the Delhi police could have stopped the violence, if they had arrived on time. Many also pointed towards the pre-meditated nature of the violence.

Speaking to Amnesty International India, Nawab Ali, a riot survivor said, “We kept calling them but they did not come. From 4 PM to 1 AM, we were calling them. We just wanted to come out of this alive. Those people were very dangerous. It wasn’t merely an organic crowd. It was a massive crowd and they had all sorts of weapons”. 

Amnesty International India interviewed several survivors who said that the Delhi police was unsympathetic towards the grave risks survivors were facing during the violence. Shabnam, a riot survivor who lost her house to the arson during the riots said, “My husband called the police, my father called them, several times. They asked, ‘Tell us your address, tell us where you live’. We told them our address, but they did not respond, and no one came to our help. When our house was burnt, even then we called the police at about 1 AM. Then, the police said, ‘How much will you disturb us? We are sending the police vans.’”

Another riot survivor, Kamlesh Uppal, also recounted her horror of calling the police in vain. “In the afternoon, they broke the locks and burnt my house. We were living there for the last 22 years and they didn’t leave anything. We built our home with so much hard work but the people burnt it down. We tried calling the police, we thought they would come and control the law and order situation but it took them more than three days to come to our locality,” she said.

Interviews of riot survivors by Amnesty International India show the common response from the police when the victims tried calling was “Ye lo Azaadi (Take your Freedom)”, evidently a response to the popular slogan of ‘Hum Kya Chahte? Azaadi (We want freedom)’ used by protesters.

Shahida, a riot survivor who saw rioters setting mosques on fire and throwing bottles inside people’s homes to set them ablaze said, “We called the 100-emergency number so many times but not even once did anyone answer. When they did answer our phone they said, ‘you wanted Azaadi (freedom), here take your Azaadi now”. 

Mohammed Imran who had called the Delhi police at least 10 times said, “When the police did pick the phone up and speak to us they shouted at us saying, ‘you wanted Azaadi (freedom), here take your Azaadi now’. This is how they were talking to us when we called for help”.

Drawing from his experience, Harsh Mander, a human rights activist, founder of Karwan-e-Mohabbat, a Delhi based non-governmental organization and former civil servant underlined the complicity of the Delhi police. Sharing with Amnesty International India, he said, “I have been in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). I have handled many riots myself. I have studied riots very closely after I left IAS too. No so-called ‘riot’ can go on for more than even a few hours if the state and the police don’t want it to continue. The fact is that this was a riot waiting to happen and even ordinary people knew that, everyone knew in this area. If people who had made (hateful) speeches would have been detained, if the police had come down heavily (on those inciting violence), this wouldn’t have happened at all”.

The Delhi police in one of their charge sheets, mention a speech made by Harsh Mander on 16 December 2019 in Jamia Millia Islamia University, as one of the reasons why the protests turned violent. In this speech, Harsh Mander who was advocating for peaceful protests said, “I will raise a slogan today — what are we fighting for and who are we fighting for? This fight is first for our country, then for our Constitution, and then for love”.

Vibhuti Narain Rai, who retired as the Director General of Police in Uttar Pradesh was the Superintendent of Police in Ghaziabad when the Hashimpura massacre took place in 1987. The massacre saw personnel from the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) of Uttar Pradesh kill more than 42 Muslims. Vibhuti Narain Rai had filed an FIR against the police officers. In 2018, the Delhi High Court convicted 16 personnel of the PAC and sentenced them to life imprisonment. Speaking to Amnesty International India, he said, “Communal riots cannot happen for more than 24 hours without the permission of the state. If the riot continues for more than 24 hours, you will have to question the motive of the state”. 

Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a state party, recognises the unrestricted right to a peaceful assembly unless it is not in the “interest of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”. 

The limiting clauses are not a license to impose restrictions. However, when the state is unable to protect the participants to the peaceful assembly from severe threats to their safety, it may impose the restrictions, starting with least-intrusive measures based on an individualised or differentiated assessment of the conduct of the participants and the assembly. Blanket prohibitions are customarily disproportionate and must be avoided.

Towards this, the law enforcement agencies must also work towards promoting dialogue between various parties in assemblies – before and during the assembly –  aimed at promoting preparedness, de-escalating tensions and resolving disputes. 

Orders under Section 144 of the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which prohibits an unlawful or violent assembly have been frequently and promptly passed by the authorities to restrict legitimate expression of dissent in the past. However, in the North-East district of Delhi, it was invoked at least a day after the violence erupted. This, despite the Supreme Court of India’s underlining of the stated use of Section 144 in cases of emergency and for the purpose of preventing obstruction and annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed.

POLICE’S COMPLICITY AND FAILURE TO CONTROL THE LAW AND ORDER SITUATION

Amnesty International India in collaboration with Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab analysed and verified various videos that were uploaded by eyewitnesses on social media. These videos were recorded during the riots and show the Delhi police committing various human rights violations. After the riots, Amnesty International India visited the locations where the videos were shot and interviewed people on the ground.

It found that the behaviour of the police officers in many incidents during the violence in Delhi is a cause for concern as police officers a) did not intervene despite being present b) intervened only to arrest or attack the anti-CAA protesters and c) refused to register complaints of the victims.

In a video that went viral on social media, Delhi police officers can be seen kicking and hitting a group of five wounded men, poking them with rifles and asking them to sing the Indian National Anthem on 24 February.

The police are given the powers to use force and firearms to enforce the law. However, the use of force must only be resorted to with the utmost respect for the law and with due consideration for the serious impact it can have on a range of human rights: the right to life, to physical and mental integrity, to human dignity, to privacy, and to freedom of movement. 

The ruthless treatment of the heavily injured men by the Delhi police violated the international human rights standards that allow for force to be used only as a last resort, as much necessary to achieve the objective of such use and proportional to the objective. 

The principle of proportionality means that law enforcement officials are only allowed to put life at risk if it is for the purpose of saving/protecting another life. In Indian law, sections 129, 130 and 131 of the Code of Criminal Procedure empower the police officers and armed forces to use only necessary or ‘little’ force to disperse an unlawful assembly on the order of the Executive Magistrate or officer-in-charge of the police station.

The video, however, does not reveal any such threat that may authorize the ill-treatment meted out by the police officers on the men.

After the video was shot, the men were taken to the police station on the same day and detained. Amnesty International India analysed the video footage and spoke to the mother of 26-year-old Faizan, one of the men in the video. Kismatun, Faizan’s mother, told Amnesty International India that she had seen the video several times but did not realise until much later that her son was also there in the video. “I went to the police station along with my son’s photograph. I showed them his photograph and asked if he was there and they said yes. I asked them if they would let me see him and if they would let him go. The policeman said no. But I still waited there till 1 o’clock in the night,” she said.

 

Faizan was detained by the police for close to 36 hours without any charge. He was handed over to his mother at 1 AM on 26 February after his condition deteriorated. The police refused to give any paperwork to the family to show that he had been detained.

In 1997, the Supreme Court of India in the case of D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal (1997) 1 SCC 416  laid down a set of guidelines to prevent custodial abuse and torture. They have since been incorporated into the CrPC. These guidelines and Section 41B of the CrPC call for identification by the police while making an arrest and preparation of an arrest memo with the date and time of arrest signed by an independent witness and countersigned by the arrested person. It also states that a family member or friend should be informed of the person’s arrest along with their place of detention. Section 54 of the CrPC states that the arrested persons are medically examined after being taken into custody. Article 22(2) of the Constitution of India and Section 57 of the CrPC also require the police to produce every arrested person before a magistrate within 24 hours.

In Faizan’s case, all the national and international guidelines were blatantly bypassed by the Delhi police.

“I asked them why they were allowing me inside the police station late in the night when just the previous night they had told me that women are not allowed. I said this after they had handed over my son. He asked me to be grateful that I had got my son back and told me to go. They made a small note and I asked them for a photocopy to show they had kept my son in custody. They outrightly refused and asked me to take my son and leave immediately,” Kismatun told Amnesty International India.

Faizan’s mother then took her son to a clinic where the doctors told media houses such as the HuffPost that he had “an open wound on his head and blood clots everywhere” and that his “pulse was fading”. His family members then admitted ADD him to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan hospital in New Delhi on the afternoon of 26 February where he died on the same night after his condition worsened. Despite multiple video evidence, the Delhi police have denied that they tortured Faizan or unlawfully detained him.

Under international law, in any case of death resulting from the use of force by law enforcement officers, regardless of whether it is suspected or alleged that the death was unlawful, there must be a prompt, effective, thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigation. 

If the investigation identifies evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of any individual or individuals involved, such evidence should be referred to the relevant prosecutorial authorities. Failure to carry out such an investigation would violate India’s obligations to respect and protect the right to life and to ensure an effective remedy. 

Lack of investigation into the torture and subsequent death of Faizan signals towards the multiple violations committed by the Delhi police that remain to be investigated. 

In a second video that was shot on the Khajuri Khas-Wazirabad road, policemen can be seen standing shoulder to shoulder with rioters and pelting stones and tear gas shells as smoke emerges from a building that is under attack. The video also shows the Khajuri Khas police post which is located barely 15 feet away from the shrine of Chand Baba Syed. The shrine was broken down and the walls burnt. Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab verified the time, date and location of this video. Amnesty International India spoke to Bhure Khan whose house wasn’t spared either. He lives on the first floor of this building and also owns shops on the ground floor of the building.

“They were raising slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Lord Rama). First they set my car and motorcycle on fire. We started dousing the flames but then they threw tear gas shells at us. They were right here. My brother was hit by a stone. We realised that the police were hand in glove with the rioters so I told them (my family) that it is best to leave everything and run,” he said.

When the rioters burnt Bhure Khan’s house, he claims he called the police and the fire brigade repeatedly but no one came to help.

“We called  100-emergency number for the police but no police van came. There was no response. At 6:30 PM, we called again. The fire brigade then showed up at 7:30 PM and put out the fire completely. We said ‘Had you come earlier, our house could have been saved’. They said that there was stone pelting happening in the area. If stone pelting was happening, why didn’t the firemen get the police with them? We weren’t allowed to put out the fire on our own either,” he said.

In a third video that was verified by Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab, rioters can be seen vandalising a mosque in Ashok Nagar and placing a saffron flag on one of its minarets as a crowd cheer. Built in 1974, Masjid Maula Baksh was torn down, vandalised and set ablaze by rioters over a period of three days between 25 February and 27 February 2020. Amnesty International India interviewed Syed Zahir Hussain, Naib Imam and Muezzin of the mosque.

“The rioters broke down the whole mosque and set it on fire. They also broke down my house. After everything had been reduced to ash, they found out that we were seeking shelter in the house next door and reached there as well. They broke open the door and started climbing upstairs. We had mixed chilli powder with water to use for our protection. We kept calling the 100-emergency number throughout but we couldn’t get through. We were not able to connect with the police,” he recalled.

International human rights law strictly prohibits all forms of discrimination. No one should be treated differently by law enforcement because of their race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, religion or belief, political or other opinion, ethnicity, national or social origin, disability, or other status.  Everyone has the right to equal treatment under the law.

The Human Rights Council in its Resolution 6/37 called on the states “to exert the utmost efforts to ensure that religious places, sites, shrines and symbols are fully respected and protected and to take additional measures in cases where they are vulnerable to desecration or destruction”.

While the CrPC that governs police procedures in India does not specifically highlight the aspect of non-discrimination, the Model Code of Conduct for the Police in India issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1985 states:

“As members of a secular, democratic state, the police should strive continually to rise above personal prejudices and promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India, transcending religious, linguistic or sectional diversities and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women and disadvantaged sections of society”.

Speaking of the lack of attention given to the training of police on non-discrimination and equality in India, Vibhuti Narain Rai told Amnesty International India that when police officers start talking in the terminology of ‘us’ and ‘them’, their training becomes redundant in a communal violence situation. “Unfortunately, training is the most neglected area of a police personnel’s career. After undergoing their initial training course, most police officers do not undergo any other training intervention throughout their lives and they remain in the service till 60 years of age. In police training institutions, you find Indian Police Service (IPS) officers as trainers. I personally feel IPS officers may be good policemen but they are not good trainers. As we move ahead, it is important to improve a police officer’s mind and not just their physique,” he said.

On 26 February, India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval visited the riot-affected areas and reviewed the law and order situation and tried to allay the security concerns of the local people. After meeting with senior officials of the Delhi police, Ajit Doval termed the situation in the riot-hit North-East Delhi “under control”.

But for 55-year-old Babu Khan, Ajit Doval’s assurance did not translate into any real protection. His two sons were killed in the violence that followed immediately after Ajit Doval’s visit. The Delhi police have arrested 11 people, all Hindus so far.

Speaking to Amnesty International India, Babu Khan said, “After everything had calmed down, Ajit Doval came here. He told us that we had nothing to worry about and that the Central Reserve Police Force had been deployed. The [mainstream] media played that up in a big way. My sons were too young to assess the situation. Had they spoken to me, I would have told them to not come home. When they were coming back home the next day, the rioters made my sons lie down on a bike and beat them on their head and face. There were deep wounds. There is no count of the number of times they were hit on their heads with a sword. It was the handiwork of at least 10-15 people”.

The riot that seemed far from spontaneous saw almost three times the number of Muslim casualties compared to Hindus. Muslims also bore the brunt of loss of business and property. The percentage may be lower but establishments and homes owned by Hindus were not left completely untouched.

Amnesty International India interviewed Roop Singh who is the caretaker of the DRP Convent Public School in Shiv Vihar, an establishment owned by a Hindu. The school was vandalised during the riots on 24 and 25 February.  “I saw two ropes hanging into our compound from Rajdhani School next door and about 40-50 men climbing down. They were raising slogans of ‘nara-e-takbeer allah o akbar’ (God is Great). They opened the gate and more men came in. They fired in my direction with a locally made pistol. They said, ‘There is a Hindu, kill him’,” he recalled.

Desperate calls by the caretaker of the school were met with the same response from the Delhi police. But unlike others, Roop Singh has a more sympathetic view of the challenges faced by the police during the riots. “The police said that they were on their way but were not allowed inside. The rioters did not let the police enter. They had set up a big sling in the Rajdhani School next door which was used to throw petrol bombs,” he told Amnesty International India.

Denying or unreasonably delaying prompt and adequate medical care to a person who is ill or seriously injured is a clear violation of a person’s right to health guaranteed under Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which India is a state party. In some cases, the denial of medical care itself may amount to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, especially if delayed or denied for the purposes of extracting a statement or confession from the injured detainee.

As most parts of North-East Delhi were engulfed in the riots, most private medical practitioners were forced to close down their clinics or hospitals. For those injured, getting medical care became difficult. This was aggravated by the Delhi police’s inability to disperse the rioters who blocked the roads and denied entry to ambulances. But the Al-Hind Hospital in Old Mustafabad, became a place where riot survivors could get their first aid and basic medical care.

Speaking to Amnesty International India, Dr. M.A. Anwar, Director of Al-Hind Hospital recounted the time during riots. “At that time, all medical practitioners pulled down their shutters. All medical centres were closed. This was the only place that the people could rely on. I spread out a carpet on the first floor and put people in there. We gave people first aid. We stitched up those who were bleeding profusely to stop the bleeding. We tried to ensure that the patient didn’t go into shock and maintained their vitals. 75% of the cases that we handled were firearm injuries. Many had pellet injuries, some had bullet injuries. Some were crushed. There were a few whose legs had been torn apart. There were many cases like that,” he said.

But with the injured people piling up in his 15-bed hospital and rioters blocking ambulances from reaching Al-Hind hospital, Dr M.A. Anwar requested the Delhi police to provide security to ambulances so that they can take the injured and dead to other hospitals. But Dr. Anwar told Amnesty International India that he did not receive any assistance from the Delhi police.

Filmmaker Rahul Roy through his advocates, Suroor Mander and Chirayu Jain then approached the Delhi High Court which convened a special hearing at midnight on 26 February. The Court in their case of Rahul Roy v. Government of NCT Delhi W.P. (CRL) 566/2020, ordered the police to ensure safe passage for ambulances to ferry those critically injured to state-run hospitals.

Speaking to Amnesty International India, Harsh Mander who has been instrumental in mobilising relief and support for the victims said, “We found that the police were just not responding. Finally, one of our lawyers had to go knocking at the door of a Delhi High Court judge at midnight. He set up a bench as we know. It was only after he gave orders for the police to ensure safe passage, even for ambulances, that people began to get rescued. It required the nudge, sadly, of a Delhi High Court bench, for the police to do its elementary duty”.

On 1 July, the Delhi police in its investigations into the Delhi riots, filed a charge sheet against Dr M.A. Anwar. The Delhi police accuse the doctor of organising an anti-CAA protest in Mustafabad where hate speeches were made, allegedly instigating and resulting in violence, including the killing of a 20-year-old person during the riots.

TORTURE OR OTHER CRUEL, INHUMAN, AND DEGRADING TREATMENT IN DETENTION:-

Amnesty International India has documented a disturbing pattern of torture and other ill-treatment meted out on riot survivors and detainees in police custody by the Delhi police. It interviewed several survivors who were subjected to torture in custody. Most of them were Muslims.

The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment (UNCAT), which India has signed but is yet to ratify, prohibits torture. 

Discrimination constitutes an essential element of the definition of torture in the Convention. The discriminatory use of mental or physical violence or an abuse is an important factor in determining whether an act constitutes torture. 

With reference to minorities, the Committee Against Torture has expressly stated that, “the protection of certain minority or marginalized individuals or populations especially at risk of torture is a part of the obligation to prevent torture or ill-treatment”. 

In another set of videos that Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab verified, the Delhi police in Khureji Khas can be seen pointing guns at a crowd in order to dismantle the anti-CAA protest and breaking CCTV cameras installed at a petrol pump. Damaging property and altering or destroying evidence, if proven, constitute a crime under the Indian Penal Code.

Moreover, police have a responsibility to engage in dialogue and to communicate with protesters, with an aim to facilitate peaceful assemblies and to minimize the use of force.

The police were also filmed detaining human rights activist Khalid Saifi on 26 February as he was making his way to the protest site on foot. The policemen escorted him to the police station next door.

Saifi’s family claims he was tortured in custody, taken to a hospital and then produced before the duty magistrate in the parking lot of Karkardooma Court complex in East Delhi the same night, when he was sent to jail.

When Khalid Saifi was produced in court again on 11 March after his judicial custody ended, he was wheeled out by the Delhi police on a wheelchair. Six months later, Khalid Saifi continues to be in jail. The Delhi police have arrested Khalid Saifi under the repressive Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). (You can read more about why the UAPA is problematic and must be repealed here.)

Recalling the events, Nargis Saifi, Khalid Saifi’s wife said, “When I went to meet my husband, I found him sitting in a wheelchair! A man who walked from his house on his two feet, who was arrested while he was walking on the road, who was made to walk to the police station…I found him in a wheelchair with bandages on both his legs. He told me that he had been brutally tortured. I don’t think they even treat criminals like that”.

Besides the violations that were recorded and streamed on social media platforms, Amnesty International India interviewed other families who were affected during the riots. It documented a clear pattern of arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and retaliatory violence against the arrested persons in custody, some of which amounted to torture. The families of arrested/detained persons were not informed of their arrest/detention.

Athar, a riot survivor who was similarly detained and tortured by the Delhi police said, “I was returning home from work on 24 February. My mother had told me to come back home because of the riots. While I was on my way home, the police stopped me and asked me whether I’m a Hindu or a Muslim? When I said I was a Muslim, they took me to the Dayalpuri police station in a van. There were about 25 other people in the van. They kept saying “you want azaadi (freedom)” and hitting us. We were tortured for the next four days. They beat me and others with sticks and belts. Then on 28 February they produced me in the court. I managed to get bail two weeks later”.

The Delhi police have also been accused of misbehaving and attacking lawyers and journalists. Sunny Tayeng, a lawyer with Human Rights Law Network, a non-governmental organisation told Amnesty International India that she along with other lawyers were not allowed to speak to their clients who were unlawfully detained by the police at Jagatpuri Police Station in North-East Delhi. When the lawyers objected, the policemen started lathi-charging them. “I was trying to make a video. Suddenly, a policeman who wore a helmet and did not have a name badge, snatched my phone and ran away. I went after him and asked him to give back my phone but he refused. I shouted at him but he almost attacked me, so I ran away. Many of our colleagues were forced to go outside the police station. They said, ‘if you don’t go out, we will beat you up’. There was no other way, we had to run for our lives,” she recounted.

Providing timely access to lawyers, family members and medical professionals for persons in custody is a right and an important safeguard against torture and other ill-treatment. Denial of this right amounts to incommunicado detention and is in itself a form of ill-treatment.

Amnesty International India also interviewed the brother of a riot survivor who lost both his eyes to a bullet allegedly fired by the police. “I immediately took him to the hospital where the doctor told us that both his eyes were severely damaged. I then went to the police station to file a complaint thinking we might get some compensation from the government. I was afraid to say that the police had fired at my brother, so I told them I don’t know who did this but my brother has lost both his eyes. Then the police said they have a video of my brother pelting stones and they arrested him. After being produced in the court he got bail and now he is at home with us. He told us that the police had tortured him in custody. We don’t want to pursue any investigation against the police. What will happen anyway?” asked his brother.

HARASSMENT AND INTIMIDATION BY THE POLICE AFTER THE RIOTS:-

Impunity for abuses by law enforcement officials is an entrenched problem resulting from a series of systemic failings. These include the failure by the police or judicial authorities to conduct prompt, thorough, effective and impartial investigations and bring perpetrators to justice and the failure to guarantee the right to an effective remedy. 

Section 154 of the CrPC, for instance, makes it mandatory for the police to file a First Information Report (FIR) on receiving information about a cognizable offence. According to the Indian Penal Code, rioting, destruction of property, murder, serious assault or attempt to cause serious assault are cognizable offences. Making statements that create or promote enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes is also a cognizable offence.

In an order dated 8 July, the Special Commissioner of Police (Crime) Praveer Ranjan issued an order to the investigation teams probing the riots. The order said “due care and precaution” must be applied while making arrests in connection with the February communal violence in the national capital, to avoid “Hindu resentment”. The Delhi High Court pulled up the Delhi police and termed the direction ‘mischievous’. Though the Delhi High Court refused to revoke the order in August, the Court said, “It is further suggested that the investigating authorities must not create any bias on the basis of any instruction issued by the senior officers which is not recognised under any law”.

On conditions of anonymity, lawyers handling the cases of the riots survivors and detainees told Amnesty International India that the Muslims were disproportionately detained and arrested by the Delhi police after the riots.

The riot survivors have also maintained that the Delhi police intimidated and harassed many by unlawfully detaining them and forcing them to sign on blank papers. Lawyers representing the detainees have told Amnesty International India that the Delhi police blatantly violated the fair trial procedures by arresting people without producing arrest warrants and restricting their access to legal aid, including during police interrogation.

A lawyer speaking to Amnesty International India on the condition of anonymity said, “We have shared the videos with the police where the rioters can be identified easily. But the police are doing nothing. It is clear that the majority of those being arrested by the police are Muslims. The families of those who have been arrested call us for help but what can we do? They say that they are the victims but the police are arresting them. We as lawyers are helpless. When the police target a community like this then the mutual trust between the communities gets broken”.

Shabnam, a riot survivor and resident of Shiv Vihar lost everything to arson during riots. Her husband now runs pillar to post for compensation. After the riots, her 54-year old father was unlawfully detained by the Delhi police. It is only after the intervention of the Jamiat-e-Ulma Hind, a local organisation of Islamic Scholars, he was released. Speaking to Amnesty International India, she recalled, “My father was picked up by the police on 9 March by the Crime Branch around 4 to 5 PM.  He was taken to the Khureji Khas Police Station. They asked him to sign on a blank sheet of paper. My father asked them to first write something on the sheet. But they persisted. He did not sign the blank paper. They had seized my father’s phone and so we were unable to contact him. We were scared for his life and couldn’t do anything besides crying”. 

Amnesty International India also interviewed other residents of the riot-hit areas. Nizammudin, a resident from Chaman Park said, “The police barged into our homes when I was not there. My wife and two children were at home when they frisked all our belongings. Later, they picked me up and took me to the police station. They told me to sign on a blank paper and said that I should come to the police station whenever they call”.

On the condition of anonymity, another lawyer told Amnesty International India that the Delhi police started arresting Muslims on a mass scale immediately after the riots even though the minority community bore the brunt of the violence.  “The police are doing this to intimidate [the Muslims] and create a fear of the police. This is done to protect members of the majority community. This is done to ensure that there are no complaints filed against the Hindus. There is this fear among the minority community that if we go to the police station and file a complaint against a Hindu, we will get arrested,” he recalled.

The lawyer representing the boy who lost his eyes told Amnesty International India that this survivor was able to secure bail because his injuries required immediate medical treatment. However, others were being recklessly arrested for rioting under non-bailable provisions of the Indian Penal Code. “You look at the case of the boy who lost both his eyes. His brother went to file a complaint so that they might get compensation but look what happened to them. The police arrested the boy. The sections that they have used are sections 147, 148, 149 and 436. Some of these sections are non-bailable. Most of the other people are being arrested under these sections. The boy got bail because he lost both his eyes and needed more medical treatment”, said the lawyer.

International human rights law requires that States Parties make reparation to individuals whose rights have been violated. Without reparation to individuals whose rights have been violated, the obligation to provide an effective remedy is not discharged. According to the UN Human Rights Committee, appropriate reparations can involve restitution, rehabilitation and measures of satisfaction, such as public apologies, public memorials, guarantees of non-repetition, and changes in relevant laws and practices, as well as bringing to justice the perpetrators of human rights violations. 

It is evident that the plethora of abuses committed by the Delhi police during and after the riots does not put them in a position to investigate itself and remedy the widespread impunity enjoyed by its officers and the suppression of the riot survivors. 

WHY THERE NEEDS TO BE AN INDEPENDENT, IMPARTIAL INVESTIGATION INTO THE ROLE OF DELHI POLICE DURING THE RIOTS:-

Nobody is above the law – especially those who have a duty to uphold it.

It is very rare that police officers are held accountable for their involvement during communal violence in the country. In the 1987 Hashimpura massacre case, it was after 31 years that the Delhi High Court convicted 16 officers and sentenced them to life imprisonment.

Delhi has witnessed two major communal violence incidents since 1980 – the 2020 riots and the 1984 Sikh Massacre.  The 1984 Sikh massacre witnessed Sikhs being killed in Delhi and other parts of the country. The violence against Sikhs was in response to the assassination of the then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Government estimates that about 2,800 Sikhs were killed in Delhi.

In a scathing attack on the Delhi police, the Justice S.N. Dhingra Committee, which was probing into the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, told the Supreme Court of India in November 2019 that the Delhi police had  “miserably failed” in getting justice for the victims of the massacre. The committee told the Court that, “The whole effort of the police and the administration seemed to have been to hush up the criminal cases concerning the riots”.

On 26 February 2020, while the Supreme Court of India was hearing a petition seeking clearance of Shaheen Bagh road blockade, and also for a Court-monitored probe into reports of Delhi police inaction during the riots, the judges in their oral remarks said, “Regarding police inaction, I want to say certain things. If I don’t, I won’t be discharging my duty. I have my loyalty towards this institution, towards this country. The problem is lack of independence and professionalism in police. If this had been done before, this situation would not have risen. Look at how police act in the UK. If somebody makes inflammatory remarks, they swing into action. They don’t wait for orders. Police should not be looking here and there for nods”.

In both the 1984 Sikh massacre and the 2020 Delhi riots, the Delhi police committed human rights violations with impunity afforded to them by the government. If Delhi police have to be held accountable then the state also has to be held accountable. Political leaders who made hate speeches which advocated violence in the build-up to the 2020 riots must be held accountable.

“Impunity sends the message to the police and politicians who advocate for violence in their speeches that they can get away with committing human rights violations in the future as well. This state-sponsored impunity must end. Police officers and politicians must be held accountable to thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigations and if they are found guilty they must be criminally prosecuted. Only then this vicious cycle of violence will end and victims and their family members will get justice”, said Avinash Kumar.

RECOMMENDATIONS:-

Amnesty International India calls on the Ministry of Home Affairs to:-

  • Initiate a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into all allegations of human rights violations by law enforcement officials including excessive use of force, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, failure to protect the survivors and other individuals from attacks by far-right groups, and the unlawful use of firearms.
  • Establish a fully independent, public and transparent inquiry to review the Delhi police’s role in failing to prevent and aiding the violence that broke out in North-East Delhi between 23 and 29 February 2020. Such an inquiry must not have any structural or organisational connection with the police and must be provided with adequate power and resources to examine the scene of the incident and summon the witnesses.
  • Suspend all police officers named by the communities, pending investigation/inquiry.
  • Ensure in-service training on hate crimes and communal violence, on the specific needs of the victims and the role of police in combating and protecting people against discrimination is imparted to all police officers periodically.
  • Create a comprehensive strategy aimed at preventing hate crimes against minority communities, in consultation with the civil society.
  • Create comprehensive guidelines for the implementation of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials in consultation with the civil society.
  • Implement the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court of India in the case of Prakash Singh v. Union of India for police reform.

It calls on the Prime Minister of India and Ministry of External Affairs to:

  • Ratify, without reservations, the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) immediately and enact implementing domestic legislation criminalizing torture.

UNCAT requires that states criminalize torture in domestic law, establish jurisdiction over acts of torture that occur within the state, make torture an extraditable offense, investigate any allegations of torture within the state and provide effective and enforceable remedy to torture victims.

It calls on the Parliament of India to:

  • Amend the laws governing the police at the state and central level so that the grounds on the basis of which the police can investigate communal violence and arrest and detain persons are made more stringent and discrimination on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, sex, gender and political opinion is explicitly prohibited.
  • Amend criminal laws at both the state and central level to include an explicit duty for police authorities to investigate any discriminatory motive behind the perpetration of the crime.

It calls on the National Human Rights Commission to:

  • Call for the implementation of its recommendation on establishing Human Rights Cells in state and city police headquarters.

Human Rights Cells monitor the human rights violations committed by the police officers and act as a bridge between the state police departments and the NHRC, which is the premier human rights monitoring body in India.

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